The Rodin Project at Sadler’s Wells
Inspired by the controversial French sculptor Auguste Rodin, award-winning choreographer Russell Maliphant has directed yet another extraordinary dance performance – The Rodin Project.
Opening in Angel’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Maliphant’s production was both fascinating and exhilarating, while also deeply unnerving. Gentle stroking, elegant spinning and torsos intertwining romantically one minute were harshly juxtaposed with jutting spines, angled limbs, writhing bodies and rasping rib-cages the next.
In particular, dancer Dickinson Mbi’s (who was spotted by Maliphant just last year at Sadler’s Wells) manipulation of his body made for addictive viewing. His shoulders parted from his neck, his legs wandered from his hips, his back curved from his stomach in a series of completely disconnected, yet utterly connected human expressions. His body appeared possessed, lost and out of control, yet he was controlling it.
Designed by Es Devlin and Bronia Housman, the set had three main changes. At the performances’ opening, the audience were softly brought into a white calm space. Four large drapes hung from the top of the set to the bottom (upstage) – their ends tickling the stage floor happily, behind which rested a jigsaw of blocks: some smooth, some edged and all white.
The three female dancers stepped on to stage in costumes, designed by Stevie Steward, that directly reflected the set – white togas, tied loosely around their shoulders, midriffs and waists. They looked like Vestal Virgins as they slowly peeled back the four giant pieces of cloth. Peeling aside the purity, calm and relaxed pretense of human nature for the demonstration of the raw actual interior of being that Maliphant was about to thrust us in to.
The second set was black – all cloths, drapes and white material were removed. The jigsaw centerpiece, that had been softened by its cover, now stood stark and angular. The dancers surrounded it, not so much approaching the stage but hunting it. Eerie, inverted and tumultuous, the dancing predators preyed on each other, replicating segments of movements in a perfect organisation of the disorganised.
The third set still had jigsaw-effect cubes and remained black, but it also featured an eight-foot wall, on which the homoerotic laced, anti-gravitational routine of dancers Tommy Franzen and Dickinson Mbi performed a routine that rendered the audience mute and gained a standing ovation. A testament to the physical and mental strength of the human being, the piece, tinged with rejection and resilience, was exceptional.
Visible throughout the entirety of the production were the fleeting bodily reincarnations of Rodin’s works – The Thinker, The Walking Man, The Age of Bronze and most hauntingly, The Gates of Hell – were all scattered among the dancers and were brought ever so much more to life by the ethereal lighting of Michael Hulls.
This lighting combined with the scratching, uncomfortable and brilliant music from Russian composer Alexander Zekke, unfolding Maliphant’s story further than pure dance ever could. Near the end of the performance, the six dancers stood by beams of thin white light and desperately grappled with their hands trying to take a hold of it. It was as if the light was divine understanding and, like the dancers unable to contain it, it was as if Maliphant was saying that although we can get glimmers, we will never be able to control or fully understand life.
From poised, chaste Vestal Virgins, to a naked temptress; from a testosterone-fuelled, neanderthal-esque fight, to a homoerotic scene of repression – Maliphant’s The Rodin Project captures the contrasts and angles of human nature, in a performance that is truly magnificent.
The Rodin Project is at Sadler’s Wells now. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.